Investing In Your Youth Ministry

“It’s free?!” “Really? That’s awesome!!!”

Twenty four years ago this month, we moved from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida to join the staff of Student Venture, the High School Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. The Student Venture team here in Orlando was a fun bunch who had developed strong partnerships with the local church and was ministering on about a dozen campuses across the city. I’d been here about nine months when one of my teammates said, “Hey, you need to sign up for the Youth Pastor Summit. It’s a free event for youth workers at Universal Studios’ Hard Rock Live venue, and they give you a free ticket into the parks as part of the deal. The whole team is going!” This was too good to be true. A free conference for youth workers, bringing in nationally known communicators like Doug Fields and Francis Chan… and as if that wasn’t enough, a free ticket into Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. “Wow! Where do I sign up?”

Youth Pastor Summit was offered as a gift to youth pastors, youth workers and youth ministry volunteers by Student Leadership University, an organization that provides intentional, intense leadership training for high school students. Years later, when my oldest, Marisa, was a junior, she and a friend attended SLU 101 here in Orlando.

My first experience at Youth Pastor Summit was awesome! The event was capped out at 2500, because that was the maximum capacity for the Hard Rock Live venue. The place was packed. The vibe was electric. The speakers were incredible.  The day began with Krispy Kreme donuts when we arrived, and Chick-Fil-A lunch was included. At two o’clock, when we were dismissed for the day, we were given tickets into the parks, and I was off to ride the Hulk for the first time ever. The second day of the free event was hosted at a nearby local church, First Baptist Orlando, and Josh McDowell spoke that day. This began a yearly tradition of going to Youth Pastor Summit with local ministry friends and volunteer youth leaders from our church. 

As word spread, more and more youth pastors from around the country were flying into Orlando for the free two-day event. It got to the point where you had to know the exact day registration would open, because all 2500 spots would fill up within hours on that first day. One year, Jennifer and I were sitting up in the balcony at Hard Rock Live, and I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Dave Lane, a youth pastor friend from Canada I’d known from Sonlife events years before. Dave, who now serves as an Area Coordinator on our Sonlife Team, began coming down every year for Youth Pastor Summit. Soon, he helped expand the event to Toronto. It was expanding to other cities as well: Nashville, Dallas, Southern California. Of course, none of those cities were able to offer the perk of free park tickets like Orlando. As a way to manage registration, eventually Youth Pastor Summit began charging $15 for the event to pay for the registration system and to ensure that youth pastors were not signing up volunteers from their churches before those people were actually committed to coming.

Over the past twenty-three years, I’ve only missed a handful of Youth Pastor Summit events here in Orlando, each time because I was out of the country for training events. It’s been a great opportunity to be challenged and encouraged, and to connect with other youth leaders from across the region. It’s been like a youth ministry “family reunion” year after year as I look forward to meeting up with ministry friends I might only see once or twice a year.

In a day when youth ministry conferences are few and far between, Youth Pastor Summit is a unique opportunity to be refreshed and recharged as a leader, and to provide some basic equipping and encouragement for your volunteer youth workers. We’re so grateful that Student Leadership University has recognized this need and made it a priority to value youth pastors.

It was a no-brainer then when Student Leadership University asked Sonlife to help them expand to a fifth city in 2023: Chicago! With Sonlife’s deep roots in the Chicagoland area and Team members living in and serving that region, we knew we were uniquely positioned to help bring Youth Pastor Summit to Chicago this year.

This being the first year for YPS Chicago, it will only be a one day event. In future years, it will expand to a two day event like YPS in other cities. We’re thrilled to help bring the Youth Pastor Summit to the Chicago suburbs on Monday, May 1st. The event will be hosted by Compass Church in Naperville, where former Sonlife leadership team member Eric Lichte is on staff. In addition to Eric, Pete Sutton serves as the Student Pastor at Compass. Pete was a student in my very first youth ministry at Christ Community Church in the far west suburbs of Chicago. How exciting to partner together with Eric, Pete and the Compass Church team to help bring an incredible resource like YPS to youth workers in the midwest.
We would love to see you and your volunteer leaders at YPS Chicago! Along with myself, Greg Stier from Dare2Share, Megan Fate Marshman, Brad Lomenick and others will be speaking. To learn more and register for Youth Pastor Summit, visit the YPS Chicago link here.